RCMP’s watchdog
displays arrogance and bias

Ian Mulgrew, Vancouver Sun, Nov. 30, 2007

The chairman of the commission for public complaints against the RCMP doesn’t seem to get it any more than the top cops do.

Paul Kennedy’s performance at a media conference Thursday unveiling his report into the death of B.C. mill worker Ian Bush was embarrassing.

Instead of answering lingering questions about the killing of the 22-year-old by Const. Paul Koester, Kennedy sounded like an RCMP apologist.

Rather than provide comfort for the Bush family, Kennedy’s report aggravated their grief with its lack of compassion and its ringing endorsement of the Mountie investigation of the slaying.

Bush’s mother Linda said the family was prepared for disappointment.

But this?

“We disagree with his findings,” she said grimly after listening stoically while Kennedy whole-heartedly confirmed the police version of what happened inside the Houston RCMP office on Oct. 29, 2005.

The family, who are pursuing a civil lawsuit, believe the well-liked Bush, who had no criminal record, was targeted by the Horsemen because they thought he had eluded an impaired driving charge.

They arrested him outside the local hockey arena for carrying an open beer even though other people in the crowd were simply given warnings and told to move on.

Bush died scant minutes later during an altercation inside a detachment interview room.

Kennedy said he wanted to dispel the cloud hanging over the RCMP as a result of the tragedy, which emotionally split the small Interior town. He could not have gone about it in a more clumsy way.

In this case, Koester was subjected to even greater scrutiny than a regular citizen, Kennedy insisted, and was wrongly attacked for having exercised his rights to counsel and to remain silent.

He implied the media — in part because the Mounties didn’t keep them up to speed — conveyed the wrong impression to the public.

Koester wasn’t interviewed face-to-face by detectives until three months after the shooting, was given an advance list of their questions and had his lawyer available for legal advice — but Kennedy said reporters should have pointed out none of this was special treatment.

“If it were you or I, we would have been allowed to remain silent in a jail cell,” Linda Bush scoffed. “I get the impression that he thinks police need to investigate police and I do disagree with that.”

Kennedy made it clear he didn’t have a problem with police agencies investigating themselves — the issue in his mind was whether they had a good model for doing so.

He dissed those championing the independent investigation system created in Ontario, saying it had its own problems and as far as he knew there was no handy panacea.

Kennedy, a former prosecutor who was appointed to his post in October 2005, said a “best practices” model for investigating in- custody incidents remains to be developed that will give the public confidence.

I thought his message would have been better received had he used less spin and whitewash.

His report documented several serious failings in the Bush affair, yet he was argumentative with reporters who pointed out his mixed messages.

“The question I pose to you is have you reached the point where you cannot find an honest man or woman among the 7,000 people you have on the RCMP in this province?” Kennedy replied testily.

“That’s a fairly significant statement to make.”

Kennedy said the RCMP did a sterling job in the Bush investigation. Nevertheless, he said, it was necessary to investigate a selection of in-custody death and serious-incident cases that have occurred during the past five years.

The way he conducted his investigation also left much to be desired. Although he runs an independent federally funded agency, Kennedy heard only from RCMP officers.

“There has only ever been one investigation — the RCMP investigation,” Linda Bush emphasized. “It is their version and their version alone that was considered. They are the only ones who have ever done an investigation.”

She’s right.

As a result, Kennedy came to conclusions that I consider conjecture about blood-spatter evidence and the source of an unopened bottle of beer found in the interview room where Bush was killed.

He chose to accept the Mounties’ opinion on the blood patterns in spite of testimony from renowned forensic specialist and Edmonton police Const. Joe Slemko — the Bush family's expert who concluded evidence at the scene did not support Koester's version of events.

As well, there is no evidence about how the unopened beer with Bush's fingerprint on it got into the detachment.

At this year's inquest into the death, it was left a mystery.

On his own analysis, Kennedy concluded Koester missed it and Bush had it secreted on his person. That's a guess — because where else could it have come from? Well....

Kennedy didn't bother to visit Houston. He didn't bother to talk with the Bush family.

I found his approach arrogant and his opinions permeated with an insulting father-knows-best tone. I would have expected the man who is supposed to be the RCMP watchdog to have had greater sensitivity about rhetoric and optics.

In his report and presentation, Kennedy sounded as out of touch with the public as the Mountie brass. I think he seriously undermined perceptions of his own impartiality.